There are many wonders to be found across Rare's brilliant Sea of Thieves, but one of the best I've discovered lately is something created entirely by its players. Somewhere among the waves are a group of pirates competing in races, for the ultimate glory of being crowned champion of something titled The Race of Legends.
These races are a "community-lead game mode", Dread Pirate Doug (@DreadDoug on Twitter) tells me, organised by himself and his team of Legendary First Mates. Together, they have created lengthy courses across the ocean to be navigated for real-life prizes.
Doug and his crew have been running the events for over a year, and in that time they've created a community of more than a hundred pirates (about 26 crews) who have registered to race through their website.
Most races see four crews sailing head to head, while Doug and the Pirate Legends take ships to various places along the course to act as referees and camera crew. Pirates must abide by a strict code of the race, and the whole thing is streamed on Twitch.
Doug was inspired by one of the achievements in Sea of Thieves, "The Greatest Race of All Time!" which requires you to sail alongside another ship for a certain amount of time without firing at them (though you are heartily encouraged to fire upon your enemies in the Race of Legends).
"I wanted to create a way for crews to prove that they handle their ship more precisely than others, they understand how the waves affect the speed of their ship, they know how to tack into the wind or use the calm water around an island to move a little faster in rough seas," Doug told me.
"But the Sea of Thieves doesn't 'want' to be tamed and shuns structure and organisation at every opportunity. The Race of Legends works because we impose just enough restrictions on the crews competing to make the races fair."
For each race, 0wl, one of the Legendary First Mates, is posted on one of the competitors' ships to act not only as a camera person, but to make sure the pirates keep to their code.
"I'm in a Discord party with Doug and the other First Mates and we're all communicating what's going on so he can switch to the best view, and tell the audience what's happening. Between races, I help rotate the crews to their ships and set up for the next race. It's all a bit hectic, but in the end it comes together!" she said.
But how does one go about organising a race between so many players in a game where private servers don't exist?
"It's a momentous effort that begins four hours before the start of each race," Doug explained, "between 15 and 20 players sail around looking for friendly ships willing to let us load someone onto their crew before they quit out of that server. Some crews are kind and helpful, but obviously some are not".
The lack of private servers is something the Sea of Thieves community is frequently trying to work around, and having them implemented would be a huge bonus for fans – whether they're part of the Race of Legends or not. I got in contact with Rare and was delighted to learn that the server issue is being discussed.
"It's not being immediately worked on, but conversations are happening and we are keen to do it," a Rare spokesperson told me. "There are a number of design questions we'll need to answer, as well as the financial question (servers cost money to run) so we need to figure out the best way to give this option to players, and then go do the work to make it happen. It's something we're looking into providing in the future."
The Race of Legends doesn't have it too bad right now, though, and the amount of people which end up in a public server together means they pretty much take it over when organising a race. But while the concern of other scallywags getting in the way can be easily removed, competitors still have to deal with Sea of Thieves' random encounters.
Mr. Watson, crewmember of a race team known as The Foul Mouthed Scoundrels and a frequent Race of Legends participant, told me his crew sometimes refer to themselves as "Doug's test dummies", because they have a tendency to get caught up in these random encounters.
"There was this time we ghosted our ship (left it unmanned and sailing in the proper direction), but when we got back to it there was a megalodon stuck to the side and it had pushed us way off course. By the time we got it off, the other crew were well on their way to winning."
Mr. Watson's team were the first ever crew to be sunk by the kraken during a race, which led to new rules being put in place in case of kraken attacks. That's certainly not a sentence you'd get to read with any other racing events.
"We've never actually walked away with a Championship," Watson admitted. "We've won single races and are sixth on the leaderboards because of our times, but the chaos of the races has kept us from claiming a title."
Winners of both major tournaments so far have been rewarded for their work with fan-made items from the NerdPropellant Etsy store: Stronghold Skulls and Cursed Cannonballs.
Watson holds no ill will towards the game however, despite his crew's bad luck. "Races themselves are intense, and with environmental dangers, it really is an anything-can-happen style competition.
"The rules have to be tweaked often, but Dread Pirate Doug and his mods do a great job at analysing and identifying things that need to change to keep the races a fair as possible. Yet on the topic of fairness, it is, in its purest form, a pirate competition, and pirates are scoundrels at heart, so fairness is relative."
Watch the video below to get an idea of the Race of Legends in action, and see the Foul Mouthed Scoundrels face off against rival crew DADs Pirates (which Dread Pirate Doug is fairly certain is a crew full of pirates who are dads).
This year, Sea of Thieves has been updated with a host of new content, including an Arena mode where five galleons go head to head to cash in the most loot and do as much damage to enemy ships as they can in a limited time. But could we ever see an official race come over the horizon?
"I'm sure if the people at Rare wanted to make the races into an actual game mode they would find a way to make it really fun," Doug said. "But to me the Race of Legends will always be about the Sea of Thieves community getting together and competing against each other to prove who can sail the seas perfectly, even when the pressure is on."
I asked Rare if it had considered an officially-supported racing mode – and while conversations about it have happened, the developer's focus right now is still on building upon the Arena.
"Our focus is on enriching the Arena experience right now, ensuring the sessions are competitive and balanced, and building a competitive structure around it," a Rare spokesperson told me. "As we look to the future though, we have lots of ideas for alternate ways to compete!
"There would also be ways to potentially provide this kind of experience in the Adventure world in a more organic way. That's the thing about Sea of Thieves, there's so many ways we could grow the game, we've just got to decide what is the most exciting to us right now, and what order we should do them in."
Season two of the Race of Legends wrapped up with the Tournament of Champions, a race between the top six fastest crews on the leaderboard, of which the winning crew was recently crowned. Season three is set to start on 17th August and you can register with your crew now to enter.
In a game that's been criticised in the past for a lack of content, the Race of Legends sails home Rare's philosophy of giving its players the power to create their own experiences and stories.
"The Race of Legends is only a thing because the Sea of Thieves community wants it to be," Doug concluded. "My three Legendary First mates aren't just camera crew and referees during the races. They are also fantastic Discord moderators and talented fleet builders. I can't imagine doing the Race without them."
Sea of Thieves has a good reputation when it comes to listening to and appreciating its community, last year Matt Wales wrote about how Rare was adding references to some of its players most memorable achievements in game, and this year the Dread Pirate Doug himself was one of the most recent to be added.
"We meet on a monthly basis to discuss potential commemorations for players or events, and they are probably the most enjoyable meetings we get to attend. We discuss the cool stories players have had, and which ones we think make sense to immortalise," Rare said.
If you head to the tavern on the Golden Sands Outpost, you'll see a reference to Doug's Resume of Legends – a CV he created that showcases all the useful pirate-y skills one learns on the path to becoming Pirate Legend.
Perhaps in the future we'll see a nod to the races he started as well. For now, though, Rare has already featured the Race of Legends in their January edition of the Pirate Times newsletter.
"It's amazing to see the creativity the game inspires," Rare itself concluded. "We don't reveal what goes into our decision making [on honouring fans in-game] as we want that to be a secret, and for it to always be a surprise when we do immortalise players. As to whether we'll immortalise the Race of Legends, we'll have to wait and see…"
Whether or not The Race of Legends gets its own in game reference, it's heartwarming and inspiring to me seeing players come together to make these events happen. Dread Pirate Doug has created a community event that's worth celebrating – and a kraken way for pirates to spend their time on the high seas.
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